Residents raise questions about changes to airport

Residents raise questions about changes to airport
September 27
05:00 2018

Last Friday afternoon the multi-purpose room at Carl Russell Recreation Center was overflowing with residents from the Northeast Ward with questions about upcoming changes at the Smith Reynolds Airport and how it will affect their property.

But most of those questions went unanswered.

Here’s what we know: After a $150,000 deal between the city and county over the payment of taxes and stormwater fees fell through earlier this summer, county commissioners asked State Rep. Debra Conrad that the Smith Reynolds Airport be de-annexed from the city,  but no legislative acton was taken due to lack of support for the idea. Separate legislation to place the airport more directly under the control of the county, which owns it, and reorganize the the airport authority did pass. The reorganization of the airport into a county department is expected to be completed by January.

On Friday, Sept. 21 residents in the Northeast Ward were invited to attend an open meeting to discuss upcoming changes at the airport, specifically a planned runway and taxiway extension. The airport sits in the Northeast Ward.

During the meeting hosted by Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke, who represents the Northeast Ward on Winston-Salem City Council, assistant city manager Evan Raleigh was on hand to discuss the major projects that could impact nearly 100 residents in the northeast Winston-Salem community.

Raleigh, who was appointed by city officials earlier this year, said although changes to the runway and taxiway, a route along which an aircraft can taxi when moving to or from a runway, are on the books, they are not set in stone.

“I know you’ve heard a lot of conversation about the movement of the taxiway and the large project that could have some impact on property owners on the southern end of the airport. It is my understanding that the project is on the books but it has not moved forward at this point,” he said.

Raleigh said after several conversations with Mark Davidson, director of the Smith Reynolds Airport, it is his understanding that Davidson will have a separate meeting with those who will be impacted by the project at a later date. Raleigh then read a statement from Davidson on the proposed changes.

It read; “Great things are happening at Smith Reynolds Airport and in the community. The Airport Commission of Forsyth County has been awarded funds from the North Carolina Department of Transportation to build a new aircraft parking ramp and taxi lane on Forsyth County land.

“… Since the project impacts a stream and existing wetlands approval is required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Before approving the plan the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is required to send out a notice to all property owners surrounding the airport. Although the entire project is on Forsyth County land and no other property owners will be impacted, the public notice is still required.”

The statement goes on to say that to build the new parking ramp near the intersection of North Liberty Street and Lansing Drive, the Airport Commission would have to move dirt from one side of the airport to the other.

The statement continues, “… The new aircraft ramp is being built to promote economic development and job creation for the Northeast Ward, Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.”

After reading the statement and informing the public that Davidson was unable to attend the meeting, that’s when tempers started to flare.

Although there were officials on hand to discuss other changes at the airport, including the handling of an airport landfill, most of the questions couldn’t be answered because Davidson wasn’t there. Questions included: How far will the project extend into the neighborhood? Who received the public notice? Do you have a site map of the area? How do we keep up with this information?

N.C. Sen. Paul Lowe Jr. said he was also frustrated that Davidson couldn’t attend the meeting. Lowe, who represents the 32nd District in Forsyth County, said his argument on the floor of the senate was that if the legislation goes through, the citizens that live in the community of the airport will no longer have a voice.

“I feel like he should have been here because this involves our community,” Lowe said.

Mayor Pro Tempore Burke didn’t waste any time letting those in attendance know how she felt about the airport being de-annexed and the possible changes. She said a big part of the problem is peoples’ unwillingness to vote.

“We’ve been out here with this airport for quite some time, and I want you to understand that you have a commissioner and you vote for them. You have one who is running at large, Mr. Ted Kaplan. He pushed for this airport to become a part of the county,” she said. “… We need to be going down to that county commissioners’ meeting to let them know we pay county taxes, too. We need to make our county commissioners know that they are accountable for us.

“… I just want you to know you have to stand up and speak out,” Burke continued.

Before ending the meeting, Burke, Lowe and Raleigh agreed to hold another meeting to discuss the changes at the airport that works with Davidson’s schedule. Lowe promised to have representation from the state in attendance during the next meeting, and Burke promised the same from the city.

Raleigh ensured residents that all the questions raised during the initial meeting will be presented to Davidson prior to the next meeting.

Raleigh said, “I spoke with Mr. Davidson, and unfortunately he had a previous engagement and he is out of town today. But he did indicate he is happy to answer any questions that residents have about this particular project or about any other pending projects on airport property.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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